To read earlier posts about the tornado, click here.
79 Days ago, on August 21 2011 an F3 Tornado roared down our street and severely damaged our home. A by law was put in place saying we could rebuild exactly the way it had been before, on the same "footprint", but not until after November 6. So we waited.
And waited and waited and waited.
And day after day we drove by or down our street, looking at the house we had became a family in over the past 6 years, the first house Jeff and I bought, thinking of that day in August, thinking of the past, hating the way the house looked now, wanting to move on but unable to.
November 6 was a huge day on our calendar. We were just waiting for official word as to when Demo Day would actually be.
Last Wednesday we received word that Demo Day would be Saturday, Nov 5. I went to bed that Wednesday night with knots in my stomach, my heart and mind racing. It took a long time to fall asleep. This was it. It was really happening. I wondered what I would be like come Saturday.
I found it odd when people asked us if we planned to watch our house come down.
This was our house. Our home. We had been inside it when the tornado came through and kept going back to it throughout that week. We had emptied all of our belongings out of it, but it was still ours. That was our home. I have already discussed in detail in other blog posts what it meant to us, what it was to us.
I think if we were to drive by one day and see it there, and then drive by a few days later and see nothing but a big hole...I think we would have felt like we missed something. A big something. That the process wasn't complete for us.
For over 2 months we have been grieving.
Yes, things will work out.
Yes, we are getting a new house. One we never would have gotten otherwise.
Yes, we are physically fine.
But we didn't plan this. Didn't think about it for a year or two, research everything out, talk to a bank and choose this path. We were not prepared for all the decisions needing to be made in such a short time. Huge, life altering decisions. We had no idea what we were doing and quite often were not in the right frames of mind.
We had no control over any of this and emotionally, all 4 of us have pretty deep scars
To miss the demolition of our home, something we had been waiting for for 77 days, something that needed to happen in order for us to physically move forward, wasn't a possibility for us.
We needed to see it, to say goodbye, in order to emotionally move forward.
If a loved one dies, you go to the visitation. You go to the funeral. You say goodbye.
This was our home. We had to say goodbye. How could we not be there? Would you miss it if it were your home?
My only hesitation was whether or not to have our 3 and 7 year old children present for the demolition. I wasn't sure how they would react, if it would be wise to have them there, what the right thing to do was.
I consulted a few "expert" friends of mine, each of which said I would know what was best for my own children when the time came. To trust myself.
Last week Jack had his first nightmare about the tornado and I learned that in the last couple weeks Makenna has been quieter, less focused and under performing in the classroom.
When we learned that the Demo would be held on a Saturday morning, the choice seemed to be made for us. They would have to come along, and if they reacted badly, we would deal with it then. A couple of my good friends offered to be on standby to come pick up the kids and take them for the day if need be.
I didn't work on Friday, the day before the demo, and it was a PA Day for Makenna. Jeff texted me that morning to tell me that 2 houses in our area were in the process of demolition. I asked the kids if they would like to go to watch, hoping to somewhat prepare them for what they would see at our place the following day. They seemed excited at the idea, so off we went.
The three of us stood on the corner of Park and Cambria Streets and watched "Nessie's" house come down. Behind us, the Vanstone home had come down a few weeks earlier and the hole for the new home was being dug. I explained the process to the kids, and chatted with Mr Vanstone, an older man who was there watching too. I told him how Lynn, Makenna, Jack and I had walked all through this area and trekked through his backyard, climbed over his fallen trees where Lynn lost her sandal, just before we finally found my mom the next block over.
My kids and I then walked down Park St towards our home where I showed them the Youngs' house, which was beginning to be framed. I told them this would be another step we would see take place at our house once the old one came down.
They seemed to handle all of this well, so I felt okay about bringing them to our demo the following morning.
We told our friends and family that the house would be coming down on Saturday and welcomed anyone who wanted to come watch with us to do so. My mom was glad it was happening on a Saturday; this way she and my Grandma could come from Fordwich/Gorrie to watch. I asked my brother on Thursday if he was coming, and he said he was going to work in Guelph in the morning and would be there shortly after lunchtime, assuming he wouldn't have missed much by then. I have to admit, after the huge role he had played in all of this, I was surprised he was opting to work, but I didn't question his decision.
We put the kids to bed, reminding them tomorrow was a big day, and hoped we would be able to sleep ourselves.
Around 10pm on Friday night, Mike phoned to tell us he was friends with one of the guys that worked for the excavating company, had just been talking to him, and was told the hi hoe was already in our driveway and that demo was starting at 8 am sharp. Mike said his plans had changed, that he had said from the beginning he wouldn't miss it, he wasn't going to, and would see us in the morning. I laughed, glad he was coming. When I texted my mom this latest development, she wasn't sure she would be there that early, but would get there as soon as she could the next morning. Such a huge event in her daughter and grandchildren's lives, there was nowhere else she and my Grandma would be.
I went for a quick drive across town and confirmed that yes, there in the dark, was a hi hoe sitting in our driveway, waiting for the sun to rise.
This was really happening. Our house was going to be demolished. Tomorrow.
This doesn't happen everyday. Most people go through their entire lives never experiencing what we had and were about to.
It seemed to really hit Jeff on Friday. Up until now we still had a house. No, we couldn't live in it, but it was still ours. We could drive by it and still see it there and remember all the times we spent in it. After tomorrow, that house would be gone. All evidence of our lives there erased. Demolished.
He said he felt like after tomorrow, we really would be homeless. All we would own is a hole.
I understood this feeling well, as I had been struggling with it for a couple months now.
Makenna awoke at 3am, ready to go. As we settled her back into bed she asked if she could just read until it was time to get up. We shook our heads no, turned off the light and told her to go back to sleep.
She is so much her mother's daughter.
Jack was heard calling "I'm awake!" at 7am on the dot. Other than that 3am blip, we were grateful to have slept well. We dressed in layers, had breakfast and rounded up some lawnchairs and blankets. The sun wasn't even up yet. There was heavy frost on the grass and it was cold outside. We would need winter coats, hats and mitts. Makenna was happy she got to wear her BOGS boots I had just purchased off of Kijiji for her on Thursday.
When the doorbell rang at 7:30am scaring the crap out of me, I knew it could only be one person.
Mike came in with his winter coat and touque on, a smile on his face, trying to subtly assess what kind of mood I was in. When he saw I was okay he asked "Does Jack have a toy hard hat?"
This is why he is with us every step of the way. He thinks of things he knows I would want but don't think of on my own.
I dug his toy hard hat out of the dress up box and Mike and Jeff fastened it onto Jack's head over his winter hat. Jack didn't really understand yet, but didn't complain.
Thank you Mike, for thinking of that.
We left our house at 7:50am, Jeff and the kids in Jeff's truck, Mike and I in his car, me with my cell phone, camera, and flip video camera thing all ready to go. My neighbour Joyce had left a message that they would be away so we parked in their driveway and saw that our contractor and the excavating crew were already there. We set the kids up in the back of the pick up truck and I turned to see my mom and Grandma coming from the bank parking lot, coffees in hand . They had made it in time. My grandma reached out to rub my back when she reached me, and I assured her I was okay.
It was still kind of dark.
And freezing cold.
Grandma unloaded a bag full of leftover chips and cheesies from Halloween. Coupled with the Timbits Jeff had gotten them, the kids had a great breakfast ;) When Jack saw our Contractor and his white hard hat, he beamed. Now he understood why he was wearing his yellow one.
Mom and Grandma went back to the car for something while Mike and I went to look at the back yard. The next thing we knew, we heard a big crash.
Just like that, without any fanfare or final words, The demo had started. We hurried back out front, Mike laughing at the sight of Mom and Grandma running over from the bank. I handed my camera to him and started snapping pictures with my cell phone. Jeff stood by his truck with Makenna and Jack, running the flip video camera. I stood there on the sidewalk for a few minutes with Mike, Mom and Grandma as the first few swipes were taken at our house. 8am. Right on time.
When Jeff determined the kids were okay a few minutes later, he brought them over to the sidewalk where we were standing, and there our family stood, Jeff, me, Makenna, Jack, Mom, Grandma and Mike, quietly watching our house come down.
I kept looking down at the kids. Makenna was quiet, but dry eyed, taking it all in. I couldn't really tell, but I thought she was okay. She told me she was, so I took her word for it.
I knew how Jack was doing. He squealed in delight with each big crash, loving every minute. My brother's eyes lit up every time Jack squealed and danced around.
Jeff and I didn't say much for the first 10 minutes or so, just watching in wonder. Jeff put the video camera away, saying he just wanted to watch. I was glad I had given my camera to Mike, as he was snapping away while I watched the demo myself. Like Jack, he had a big smile on his face. Every boy's dream, I suppose...all the big machinery and destruction. Again, not something you see up close every day. I caught everyone there, from my Grandma to my Contractor, eyeing me. Waiting to see if I would hold it together or fall apart.
And you know what?
No tears came.
I didn't even realize it until about 15 minutes into the demo...but I was okay. I really was. Maybe I had already started to detach from this house. We had gotten all of our stuff out, it had been 2 1/2 months since we had lived in it, we had settled as a family across town...I had taken time to grieve, had talked to my Doctor and Social Worker, as well as a few friends in the field. I had cried, and cried and cried. I had called and texted my friends when I needed them and taken help when it was offered. I had been through emotional hell in the last 77 days, and today, I was ready. Today was about saying goodbye, which I needed to do, but it was also about starting fresh. About acknowledging and honouring this house, but also about making way for the new one.
Because we had everything out of it, it was easier. Because so much time had passed and I had taken the steps I needed to to get through this, I was calmer. If we had lost everything and had to watch them flatten, destroy and dump all of our belongings, that would have been painful. If it had have happened within the first few weeks of the tornado, my reaction would have been different. I cried while watching Deb Bell's house come down for those 2 reasons.
But on this day, in our case, it was time. The only time my stomach lurched a bit was at the very beginning, when the bucket took its frst few swipes, and I could see inside the kitchen and living room, see the wallpaper borders on the walls that we had put up when we first moved in. I remembered complaining when we first painted the kitchen that the colour reminded me of Kraft Dinner.A hundred memories of standing in that kitchen flashed before me in that moment when I saw the interior walls with their paint and borders.
A reminder that it wasn't just an empty abandoned building. That had been our home. Yes, it hurt, but not as much as it used to.
The first person other than family to join us there that morning was Sheila's husband Jeff. Fitting, since he had been one of the first to come help me in the immediate aftermath. I heard my mom ask who he was and Mike whispered that he was one of the guys who came and never left my side.
Jeff got out of his truck, a bit surprised to see the house pretty much down already and put his arm around me. He stayed for awhile, watching, chatting and taking pictures. Not long after he left again, Sheila arrived with their daughters and stayed with us until we left, many hours later. She brought donuts, took my kids for a walk, and stood at my side for hours. I laughed when she asked if it was noon yet and I told her it was almost 2pm. She was there, in her quiet, unwavering supportive way, as she always has been.
We were also joined by my friend Barb and her 4 year old son Luke. Their family was at the bank and came over to join us while we watched. You can't keep a little boy away from something like that! By now the kids were heavy into the chips and cheesies and having a great little party. It was reassuring to see that Makenna and Jack seemed to be doing fine.
After an hour or so I saw Patti walking down the street towards us. She hadn't realized it had started so early and was bummed that she missed the beginning. Sheila and I had joked earlier that Patti could just watch from her upstairs window since most of the trees between her place and mine had come down. Patti stayed, and it seemed fitting that for quite awhile I was flanked by her and Sheila, as I had been in the days after the tornado. At one point Jeff informed her that her two dogs were in our backyard and so she hurried off chasing them around the neighbourhood.
My friend Brenda drove by, bringing laughter to all of us as she "threw a hug" at me from her moving van on the way to Seaforth.
Jeff's employers, Sean and Melissa, had planned to be there at the beginning, wanting to videotape the entire process for it. When they arrived just before 9am, Sean was heartbroken to see he had missed most of it and they were already trucking loads out. He turned the camera on anyway, and we look forward to seeing what he was able to capture. It was still very cold and we had put the kids into the truck to warm up a bit. My toes were starting to hurt from the cold, but none of us were going anywhere. Sean and Melissa were nice enough to bring coffee and donuts from Tim Horton's for everyone, which we were all very grateful for. It was the first day I can ever remember drinking 2 large cappuccinos one right after the other.
We also had visits from Keith and Wendy (the Deputy Fire Chief and his wife, who also brought us Tim Hortons goodies), Darren and Alexis, who we had lived with for 2 weeks and are so much closer with now, John and Kathy Young, whose house up the street was also demo'd and is already being framed. Kathy and I had never met prior to the tornado, and since that time have become good friends. Our neighbours Rick and Christa came for awhile, and my friends Tammy and Jodi and their boys all stopped over too. Jodi brought us a gift, inscribed with the saying "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain". A gift that will hold a prominent place in our new home.
We had various clients from the shop Jeff works at and random onlookers; people going to and from the bank, driving down our street, etc. Some stood across the road taking pictures, others came right up to talk to us and ask questions as to how we were doing.
I also received numerous facebook comments, messages and BBMs throughout the morning from friends and family who were thinking of us and sending support from afar.
There were 3 dump trucks working to haul everything away and it all moved very smoothly. At times when they were all out, the hi hoe would take time to try to "organize" the debris, scrape the back yard, or just take a break. Mike wandered around searching for treasures and early on found an old matchbook from at least the 1950s embedded in concrete.
We watched as a scrap pile was created from the rubble - our fridge from the garage, which the hi hoe lifted high into the air and shook, to get the contents out of it, before dropping it on the grass. He dug out our bathtub, nothing more than a pancake now, even emptied our rainbarrel and found pieces of copper piping. I smiled as the water heater emerged from the basement, wondering if the water heater guys would like it now. Our furnace was placed in the pile too, virtually unrecognizable.
The original log beams that the house was built out of were lifted out in their entireties and easily snapped into pieces. I had wondered about incorporating a few of them into decorative accents for our new home, but a consensus was quickly met that they were all full of dry rot. Which I think suited my husband just fine.
We watched as the hi hoe manoeuvered around the yard for quite awhile, a purple exercise ball rolling around with it. Patti couldn't believe it hadn't been crushed yet, pronouncing it as a sign that it should come with us. We watched as ribbons of what could only be VCR tape streamed down from the hi hoe bucket as it continued to lift loads into the dumptruck. We saw the bedding and pillows from our bed, our living room furniture, and old toys from the basement, all thrown into the dump trucks. The hi hoe lifted out every tree on the property by its roots as if they were twigs and lifted the fence and clothesline poles out as if they were barely even in the ground.
Makenna did well until the hi hoe went after the items in the back yard. She whispered to her Daddy that she didn't want it to take her swingset and as we tried to reassure her we would get her a new one, the highhoe picked it up and crushed it. We grew quiet as we watched her eyes fill and chin quiver. But she held it together.
She had had so many hours of fun on that swingset. Had helped her Daddy build it when she received it as a gift from her grandparents at 2 years old. Her smile was always so big when she was swinging. One of her favourite things in the world.
Gone. 7 Years old. So unfair.
Jack kept that hard hat on, and at different times was seen surveying the scene with his Daddy, Uncle and our Contractor. The kids picked up little pieces of debris and threw it into the hole for the high hoe to scoop up and while waiting for the dump trucks to come back, they both even had the opportunity to have their pictures taken inside the hi hoe.
Making the best of a difficult situation right?
Makenna was happy playing with Sheila's girls on the grass and sidewalk, everything from make believe to science experiments. Her grade 2 teacher even stopped by and had a chat with her about all that was going on, which we thought was very sweet of her to do.
By 2pm all that was left was a hole with smashed up concrete blocks in it...what was left of our foundation. My mom and grandma returned from a trip to the mall with a Happy Meal for Makenna and Jack, and we decided it was time to leave. Jeff went over to say good bye to our contractor, who was staying for awhile yet to ensure all of the concrete was trucked away. He promised he'd be back Monday morning to begin the process of building us a new home.
And so, one more chapter in this story comes to an end. The house that became our home, that nurtured our marriage and our children, that was a safe haven from the many outside daily threats and stresses, that we did our best to fix up with the time and resources we had, that did its best to shelter and protect us from the worst storm this area has seen in decades, that had been battered, broken and falling down for the past 2 1/2 months, has been put to rest.
As the sun rose today, November 7 2011, the next chapter began.
48 hours after the demolition of our old house, we have new footings.
And with that, the story of our new house begins.
- I grew up in a village of 500 people and now live in a beach town of 10 000. Wife to Jeff, Mama to Makenna and Jack. This is my place to share what's up with us, and the place where I sometimes need to pour my heart out about the not so sunshiney moments. This is my happy place. Thanks for stopping by :) Copyright 2012 by Melissa Wormington, that no part of this blog may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without permission from the publisher.